Hildegarde The Arena
CHINESE President Xi Jinping in December 2015, made his maiden visit to Africa where he also attended the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (focac) held in South Africa, which was attended by leaders from across the continent. The 2015 forum was held under an apt theme, “Opening a new era of China-Africa win-win cooperation and common development”. President Xi noted that China and Africa should form a community of a shared future: “We have long stood together through thick and thin and are now facing unprecedented opportunities for cooperation,” he said.
The Chinese leader also laid out a 10-Point cooperation plan with Africa that had to be implemented in the next three years from 2015.
Building on opportunities presented by this focac meeting, the China-Africa Media Forum last week held a meeting in Johannesburg under the theme, “Win-win cooperation for common progress”.
The meeting was hosted by the State Council Information Office of China, and co-organised by China’s Xinhua News Agency and South Africa’s Independent Media.
There was general consensus from all attendees that the Chinese footprint on Africa can no longer be ignored. It is a footprint that should force everyone to think outside the box, in order to achieve desired results especially in the developmental sphere.
Over 40 media delegates from China and 11 African countries gathered to explore new areas of cooperation, with Africa’s media practitioners drawn from South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, Ghana, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The main points of focus were understanding, where speakers from both sides looked at the impression of China in the eye of the African media and vice versa; collaboration; and, prosperity with speakers looking at the cooperation between Chinese and African media in the future.
The writer, who was one of the participants and did a presentation on the third category. Below are some of the highlights of the presentation:
“Prosperity is a journey, and when two people decide to trudge along that path, they do so in agreement, mutually learning from each other. Be it at personal, family and/or national level, prosperity is one of the highest forms of achievement in life.”
A dictionary definition of prosperity is: “the state of being wealthy, or having a rich and full life. An example of prosperity is a person who is living a rich and full life with all the money and happiness he needs. An example of prosperity in developing countries is having basic luxuries such as running water and electricity.”
This is the pursuit for both China and Africa, and the media has a critical role to play in ensuring that this is achieved, and also making sure that the Western media monopoly on the issue is broken.
For decades, the media in Africa has used lessons on prosperity models from the Western media, but these models have failed to work, since they are designed to suit particular agendas.
However, no African country is in a win-win situation with the West, but they have with China. China is now a global economic and political powerhouse that designed its own media model that can be replicated by Africa to achieve success and prosperity for its people. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.
For, it is the same China that understood that the best way to deal with colonialism was to wage a guerilla warfare. So, if we succeeded in dismantling colonialism using the Chinese model and assistance, why would transitioning from the post-colonial state to becoming economic powerhouses also not work, using the media model that China has successfully employed?
We, therefore, ask how the cooperation between Chinese and African media ensure that this intrinsic value is achieved, not only for now, but into the future. How can Sino-African media ensure that there are dividends from a common history and catapult their nations into prosperity? What does the media need to do to be catalysts for that change?
Opportunities abound for media cooperation, opportunities that can be vehicles for development and prosperity. The synergies created have demonstrated that Sino-Africa cooperation has withstood the test of time, and the foundations so far built through the Forum for China-Africa Media cooperation and others, can be used as building blocks in ensuring that dividends therefrom, lead to prosperity.
We have already seen our friends in China boosting this cooperation by way of signing agreements meant to boost the media sector in Africa. Zimbabwe has also benefited from such cooperative agreements. In fact, every African country can bear testimony of how China has leveraged its position to ensure the development of the media sector. China has been working with African nations in the area of information technology infrastructure development, to ensure that Africa’s media is on the cutting edge.
The information infrastructure development will also ensure that African states create their own reservoirs of information, which they can share among themselves. It also guarantees that the media cooperation with China is taken to higher levels.
We have also witnessed a deepening of this cooperation as more Chinese and African media practitioners attend forums such as this one — be it in China and/or Africa, to exchange notes and map the way forward. These are platforms where many practitioners get refresher courses and chances to network.
Although a lot has been done over the years, we still have a long way to go in terms of jelling and working together as a media with a common goal in ensuring development.
One of the issues that African media have to learn from their Chinese counterparts is reporting on development issues — reports that would enable development-oriented policy-making by governments. The tendency has been to pitch the political narrative, at the expense of the developmental narrative. It’s not that the Chinese media do not report on political stories, but it is the economic advantage derived from the political story that should give that advantage.
This is an area where we can learn a lot from our Chinese counterparts, that is: what is the media’s role in China’s success story, and who determines and defines that role?
Another issue that needs to be seriously addressed is the language barrier. Instead of having a few media personnel trained in Mandarin, it should be a major requirement that schools that offer journalism and media studies include foreign languages, and one of the key languages should be Mandarin.
Despite the on-going media personnel exchanges, we feel that resources should be availed to ensure that we have more Chinese media practitioners reporting the African story from African media houses, and vice versa.
The challenges arising from the exponential growth of the information industry such as fake news calls for concerted efforts between Chinese and African media on how best to serve their end users with accurate, fair and balanced information.”
In his keynote address, Vice Minister of the State Council Information Office of China Mr Guo Weimin said the media should complement the political, economic and people friendships which are existing.
He also said that Chinese and African media should counter the Western media, which tend to portray Africa as characterised by wars, diseases and poverty.
“The Chinese and African media should counter the Western media stereotype. You should report truthfully about the Sino-Africa relations. Chinese and African media should walk hand-in-hand and strengthen reporting in international affairs and make our voices heard on issues of fairness and rationality,” said Mr Guo.
Chinese Ambassador to South Africa Mr Lin Songatian in a paper titled, “Working together to promote China-Africa friendship and upgrade China-Africa win-win co-operation to a new height”, commended the work so far done by the media from both divides.
Said Mr Lin, “Over the years, the stories you (journalists) you have recorded and the stories you have told have played an irreplaceable role in the development of the friendship and cooperation between China and Africa, and these efforts will always be remembered profoundly.”
He, however, underlined that the media were now operating under new circumstances, and thus need “to do more to adapt to the new situations in order to better serve China-Africa relations.”
Ambassador Lin proffered three proposals for consideration: “First, to promote China-Africa friendship, and uphold our common interest . . . our media should fully leverage their strengths in telling true stories of China-Africa traditional friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation to help build up the positive energy for China-Africa ties.
“Efforts should be made to establish platforms for Chinese and African people to learn more about each other, and to make our people realise that both China and Africa belong to the same developing world, and that we face the same task of reform, development and improvement of people’s livelihood,” he said.
Ambassador Lin added, “Our media should also give its due expression to the legitimate demands of the developing countries, and firmly defend our common interests.”
The Chinese top diplomat in South Africa implored on the media to “make relentless efforts in capacity building, and work constantly to increase their voices among the global audience, (and that) China and Africa should deepen media exchanges, share best practices, encourage mutual learning and increase the number of journalists we send to each other.”
In conclusion, Ambassador Lin called on China-Africa media to “communicate strongly to the public the opportunities” that exist in China-Africa development cooperation.”
The Deputy Director General of Xinhua News Agency Africa Regional Bureau Mr Wu Zhiqiang underlined the role of the media in deepening this cooperation: “We in the media bear the very important task of narrowing the gap between the realities and the perceptions of Africa among Chinese and of China among Africans.”